If university is one thing, it’s busy. Just managing all the work a degree requires is hard enough, even without your social life, downtime, and extra-curricular activities – once you factor those into the mix, it’s easy to lose your grip on time management. The transition from living at home to having to look after yourself alongside your studies and interests can be difficult, and it has honestly taken until this term (the midway point in my degree!) to figure out an effective system for organisation. Today I want to share my methods for keeping organised whilst at university, from daily scheduling to meal planning to finance tracking. Hopefully it might give you a few ideas for staying organised too!
For me, there are five points to staying organised at uni. That might seem extensive, and it’s true that I’m one of those people who likes to plan absolutely everything, but when you factor in your classes, finances, and having to look after yourself, there’s an awful lot to keep on top of every day. Like I mentioned in my 5 Steps to Good Mental Health at Uni post, it can get pretty overwhelming. But you can make it much easier for yourself by putting some small systems and habits in place…
1. A Planning System
This, for me, is the most important item on the list. If my planning system is in place, then I essentially have no option but be organised – so long as I follow it. It’s how I organise my day-to-day life. I’ve written before about my bullet journal and this is a system I continue to use today. However, this term I’ve actually expanded how I plan out my time into multiple methods, as I was finding that keeping absolutely everything in one notebook had started to feel cluttered and, ironically, disorganised. Now, I’ve designed a system which fits much better to my uni lifestyle.
Firstly, my class timetable, including the date, time, tutor, and location of each class or lecture, is automatically synced to Google Calendar which takes up an entire homepage on my phone. I would recommend this to every university student if you haven’t done it already. Many calendar apps will allow you to colour code different events so you can see at a glance exactly what you have coming up.
At Christmas my Dad gifted me a diary from 2017. It’s published by Verso Books, a left-wing radical publishing house, and their Radical Diary and Weekly Planner was produced for the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Throughout the year it spotlights significant dates in radical history. It’s right up my street and teaches me something new almost every day. I used to include a weekly spread in my bullet journal but instead I now put all that information in here; I jot down my classes, meetings, gym sessions, and social events for each day, as well as the work and blogposts I have to complete. Each category is colour-coded, so I can try and get a good balance for each day.
For my daily organisation, I return to the bullet journal. As well as laying out a monthly spread with events, goals, and tasks, each evening I take a look at my diary to see what’s on the following day, and then input that into my bullet journal (currently this, dotted in azure), followed by all the tasks I need and want to complete. I like doing this the night before firstly as a kind of ritual, and secondly so that the next day I can get started right away and keep track of my productivity. Checking off a to-do list is a great motivator!
I also have on my desk post-it notes, a memo pad and a notebook purely for ideas and scribbled plans. If there’s something I need to remember I’ll write it down on and pop in on the pinboard above my desk. Looking at all of this I can see that it might seem time-consuming, but it actually saves so much more than it uses up. Filling in the journal for the next day takes only a few minutes, and outlining the week ahead not much longer; I’d advise spending some time on Sunday getting prepped for the following week. And this is definitely the longest part of my system to stay organised!
2. A Meal Plan
I hate the feeling of not knowing what I’m going to cook that evening, or trying to meal plan whilst shopping. As well as setting out my week every Sunday, I also like to get my diet organised by planning out all of my evening meals and writing a shopping list accordingly. I have the same thing for breakfast and lunch almost every day which really slims down the process, and I like to bulk-cook things like pasta sauce, chilli, and casseroles to save money and reduce how much time I spend in the kitchen each day. If there’s a busy week ahead it’s particularly helpful, as you can plan to make something on a quieter day which can just be reheated when you get in late. It also allows me to keep track of what I’m eating on a more long-term basis to make sure I’m getting everything I need. I really enjoy cooking and like to try a new recipe every couple of weeks; planning ahead has allowed me to build up a pretty good set of meals for any situation.
3. A Finance Tracker
I’ll put my hands up here and admit that last year I barely kept track of what I was spending. So long as my bank balance was okay I didn’t worry about it. This year I’m getting much stricter on myself. There are loads of resources out there to help you track your finances (just have a google!); to start with I thought I’d use an app but the idea of storing all my financial information on my phone didn’t feel especially secure, so instead I found a budget template online. It’s a spreadsheet which I’ve saved and edited for my own purposes. The tricky thing is remembering to fill it in every time I spend, but I’m slowly getting into the habit. I’m on a mission to have £1000 in my savings account by the summer, so this is really helping me stay on track. In fact, there have already been moments when I’ve considered buying something, but then remembered that I’ll have to put it in the spreadsheet and subtract it from my funds, so in that sense it’s been a great demotivator! It’s also really helpful to look at when getting organised for the week ahead as I can see just what meals/social activities I can sensibly afford and what might not be the best idea.
4. An Organised Room/Workspace
It might seem obvious but it really is key. I thought I had a brilliantly organised workspace last term, but at the beginning of 2017 I revamped it completely and now it’s so much more work-friendly. I minimised the amount of stationery items I kept on my desk, keeping it as spacious and clean as possible, and re-organised my pinboard. I also finally got a desk light which has made an unfathomable difference! An organised room also allows you to set up all your uni work in the most functional way. For example, I have a set of shelves which is effectively a square divided into four like a window frame; this allows me to have a shelf for each module, plus an extra one for documents, and books for pleasure. Each module shelf includes the texts I’m studying, my module folder and a magazine file for my notebook any loose sheets of paper.
Having an organised bedroom and space to work really helps quell those feelings of overwhelm and makes it a much more inviting place to be. Knowing exactly where everything is ensures that you’ll never be rushing around trying to find something, and it also helps establish structure and routines. Putting away clothes and tidying up just before bed always helps me feel much more relaxed and restful, and waking up in a clean and bright space is the perfect start to the day.
5. Be On Time
Planning out your day and having the tidiest space in the world won’t help you if you’re late to things. My only actual New Year’s ‘Resolution’ as opposed to a goal was to Stop Being Late. I hate being late; it stresses me out like nothing else, means I’m forever apologising or feeling awkward, and just gives a bad impression. Yet somehow, I’m almost always late to things. Even if I give myself plenty of time to get ready, somehow I still manage not to be on time. I’ve thought long and hard about strategies to help me, and eventually decided that only one would do: I just had to stop. Full stop. My aim now is to be five minutes early; given that I’m normally five minutes late, this tends to mean I arrive exactly on time. So far, apart from when a delay was not my fault, it’s gone fairly well, and arriving at meetings and events on time means I feel much more organised and on top of things. Personally, I put it down to the structure of getting up at 7am every morning, which I’ll be talking about in a #PrettyHealthyProject post in a couple of weeks’ time.
That was quite a long one! I know this might seem like an awful lot but it actually doesn’t take a lot of effort or time to implement and in fact serves to save me a lot of time, energy and stress. But as ever, it’s about finding a system which works for you personally; like I say, this has taken a long time to perfect and it might not be as good a fit in a year’s – or even a month’s! – time. But, at least for now, it’s working perfectly.
How do you stay organised? Do you have any tips for students trying to get on top of things? Let me know in the comments below!